Sunday, March 22, 2020

DARING ABDUCTION OF YOUNG WOMAN (23)


The TV channels blared non-stop DARING ABDUCTION OF YOUNG WOMAN (23) IN BROAD DAYLIGHT.
It was about the daring abduction of a young woman that took place in broad day light in the morning as she stepped out of the gates of her bungalow. It seems she set out for a stroll in the beach as she was wont to, when a Maruti van screeched to a halt by her side close to the platform where she was slowly jogging. The door opened and in a trice she was pulled in and the vehicle sped. away. There was no time possibly for her to resist or scream as it was abrupt and sudden. The few eye witnesses were not sure how many were there in the vehicle besides the driver but were sure there were at least two men. One of them slightly limped as he came out from other side to sit beside her was the additional detail given by a witness. It sent shockwaves across the city as it had not witnessed such daring incident in the recent years.
The nosy reporters quickly gathered some details according to the TV channel that the charming lady, a post graduate was just 23, working in a foreign bank and happened to be the daughter of a prominent personality. Within a few hours the home secretary spoke to the police commissioner personally to direct that the best sleuth be put in charge of the case. He was insistent that the lady be rescued before any harm came to her. The entire investigating machinery was set in motion to rescue the lady and nab the culprits within hours.
Her parents were seen distraught when Inspector Thangaraj met them around 11 am. Assuring them of quick action, he asked, “Do you have any information besides her personal details you have given already?”
“No, I came to know about her being taken away from the security of my bungalow who was alerted by the people on the road. I tried to contact her but her phone was switched off. When she did not return even after two hours, I spoke to my friend in the government. Within 30 minutes, the commissioner spoke to me assuring very quick action and collected her details including her mobile number,” replied her father Sivaprakasam.
“Any call from others asking for money? Was there any threatening call asking you not to get in touch with police? “
“No, so far I have received none,” he replied
“OK, we are already monitoring her phone and both phones of yours and your wife’s. If someone calls, please keep talking without disconnecting. Can I have her photo?”
After taking the photo, Thangaraj asked, “Does she have any boyfriend or in love with someone?”
“No, she does not have as far as I know. She has not spoken about anyone too,” replied Sivaprakasam with certain pride.
“Thank you Sir, we have already located the likely area through her mobile when it was switched on possibly by the abductors to get in touch with you. I will let you know the developments at the earliest. In case you get any call from her or her abductors, please inform me immediately.”
Thangaraj in blue jeans and T shirt asked his driver to park the police vehicle three buildings away from the pink building that he expected to unravel the mystery. They waited in the car for 15 minutes to give the impression that police vehicle had come for some other building. He asked his sub inspector to follow him at a distance and strode fast to the pink building. There was a durwan in khaki uniform at the gate. It was around 11 am and there were not many people on the road or outside the complex. He saw a small tea shop on the opposite side of road with a couple of men sitting there.
On seeing Thangaraj coming towards the building, the durwan came out of the bunk. towards him. Thangaraj told him, “Do not panic. I am from police. I want some information. Did any red Maruti van come to this block early in the morning between 6.30 and 7 am?” 
The durwan without looking at Thangaraj said softly, “Yes, one red Maruti van came around 7 am. Please do not tell anyone that I gave the information. I am not supposed to talk about the residents.”
“Surely, be quick.”
“Three men and one young woman arrived. They went to apartment 4C on the Eastern side. “
“Did she seem unwilling to go with them and dragged by them? Are the guys bad ones? Was there anyone limping?” asked Thangaraj.
“I do not know, ayya, but one man was holding her hand firmly. Their heads were lowered and they seemed in a hurry to enter the building, I do not remember anyone limping. They are all still there” he said
“Ok, keep a watch, I may recommend a reward for you if I succeed in nabbing them,” Thangaraj said and signaled his colleague to accompany him. 
The two of them fully armed with revolvers went inside the complex. While Thangaraj took the lift, the other policeman took the stairs. Holding the revolver across his chest with his colleague in tow, Thangaraj rang the bell. The door was not closed fully. There was loud noise coming from inside of several people talking amid chanting of mantras. 
Thangaraj pushed his way inside abruptly with the revolver in hand. What he saw baffled him totally. There were lot of people including some women dressed in their finest robes seated in the hall. There were colorful festoons and balloons. The fragrance of sandal wood and jasmine filled the hall. A purohit was seen seated in the adjacent hall on the floor before a homa kund chanting mantras.
One young man in new dhoti with zari borders of red and green and a young woman in new Kanchipuram silk sari with heavy zari border with several gold bangles on her hands and garlands on their necks were seated side by side on the sofa with a large smile. 
An elderly person approached Thangaraj and said,” Welcome Sir. I am celebrating our daughter-in-law’s Seemantham (7th month function during pregnancy). Are you looking for anyone in particular?” Meanwhile a few others crowded around them.
Highly embarrassed at his faux-pas, Thangaraj said, “My sincere apologies. We came by mistake to a wrong apartment. Please carry on,” and ran down the stairs towards the gate.
The durwan was not to be seen at the gate. On approaching the bunk, he found a man lying in under garments on the floor with his limbs tied and mouth gagged. The man when freed lamented,” I am the durwan. Someone from the tea shop came around 11am and hit me unconscious, bundled me and took away my uniform.”
On further questioning he said,” A red Maruti came around 7 am and the occupants went into apartment 2A..I felt the three men were rough with a young woman who was with them. They were new to him and one of them limped. When I asked them which apartment they were going into, they did not answer but I saw them enter 2A..They looked wicked with scars on face and other places.”
While sub inspector ran to apartment 2A to find it deserted,Thangaraj ran to the tea shop owner to learn that one red Maruti van had sped away just about 15 minutes back. As the doors of vehicle were dark with tainted glasses, the tea shop man could not see inside but heard a muffled sound of someone crying. Thangaraj thanked god for his barricading the road on both ends and strategically posting his men without uniforms beforehand.He recollected then that the fake durwan dragged his feet slightly when he approached him initially  and regretted how he was misled by his khaki uniform as durwan.
There was a ring from Sivaprakasam that there was a call from one of the abductors instructing him to be ready with Rs. 50 Lakhs in 2000 rupee notes and await further instructions. Thangaraj assured him that he would call him back.
It was then his mobile came alive and Thangaraj’s face brightened as he was listening and told the party at the other end, “Good job done in handcuffing them. I am happy barricading proved beneficial and you could nab them. I hope you have taken away any possible weapon they may have. Treat the lady respectfully and get her seated in another car. Get her some soft drink. I will be there in a minute.”
The commissioner and the Home Secretary personally congratulated him. Sivaprakasam was overjoyed.
TV channels blared again,
ABDUCTED YOUNG LADY (23) RESCUED WITHIN HOURS BY CITY POLICE.
Thanks to Inspector Thangaraj’s presence of mind and planning







Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Romance at Darjeeling


“My God, what a clumsy person you are? You have spilled the entire cup of tea on me,” shouted Sooraj at the trembling young woman before him.
The caretaker of the guest house came rushing with profuse apologies and started cleaning the table. “Sorry for the unfortunate incident on your first visit. Sahib. The cook is expected shortly and the two boys who do the errands have gone to market. I requested my daughter to make tea for you. Otherwise she doesn’t do these jobs. She lost her mother in young age. Please change the dress before she brings fresh tea.”
Turning to her, he told her, “Rupna, fetch him fresh tea along with biscuits quickly and then be off to your studies.”
Regretting his impatience with the young woman who had made tea specially for him amid her busy schedule, he softened and said, “I am sorry to hear about her mother. It is perfectly fine as such things happen to all. I was not aware she is your daughter. Even otherwise I should have been calm. Sorry for my outburst. What is she studying?”
“Post-Graduation in economics. I am meeting you for the first time here. Is it your first visit?”
“No, I have come several times but this is the first time I have opted for a guest house. I do not like the mechanical and artificial ways of a hotel and their food. I work for an export company at Mumbai and visit here to procure the famous Darjeeling tea’ “Sooraj explained.
“Call me Ramchander.You will have no regrets for having chosen this place. Rupna’s examinations would be over in two days. She can guide you thereafter about the town and its fabulous surroundings though you might have known them already,” said
Meanwhile Rupna came with tea and biscuits in attractive tray and laid it gingerly on the centre table. Sooraj did not fail to notice that she had changed into a bright coloured Salwar suit and her face done up with a quick make up.
Sooraj laughed and said, “You don’t have to be extra careful. I have broken many cups and vases. It happens. Sorry, I was a bit harsh on you.”
Ramchander excused himself and left the room.
Sipping the tea, he said, “I like the flavour. Rupna is a beautiful name.” Keeping the cup on the table, he added,” I learn you are studying economics that was my favourite too.”
 “I am told you have examinations for two days. I will not detain you now but may need your help in visiting places in this city. I expect to be here for a week but we will have lot of time to talk to and know each other well,” he said with a smile and added as an afterthought, “Sorry, I forgot to tell you, I am Sooraj and working for a well-known tea trading company at Mumbai. I come here frequently.”
***
As he lay on the bed after she left, Rupna’s beautiful face fully occupied his mind. What struck him most was her shapely figure, her kohl-black long hair, her brown eyes under pencil line eye brows, and the faint smile at the corners of her eyes. It was a case of love at first sight and the wave of her dainty fingers as she left the room set his heart thumping fast. He wished to possess her as his own early.
Wanting to meet her again, he peeped into the kitchen to find a Nepali boy cutting vegetables and turned back silently to his room. He was surprised when she came rushing immediately into his room, and asked, “Did you want something? I saw your shadow as you went towards kitchen.”
“Please do not get distracted from your studies. I just wanted to tell the cook that I would have lunch here as I have no work to go out today,” he told her though he was inwardly happy she was watching his movements.
“You can always call me on number 12 in the intercom whenever you wish. Please see the card in the side table.
Sooraj liked the quiet ambiance of the guest house in the middle of a well laid out beautiful garden on the central area of Darjeeling. There were only a couple of guests in the first floor above his spacious room. Rupna’s room was adjacent to his on the other side of a passage and he loved being near her. He had a feeling that she was also attracted to him and decided to befriend her and get intimate.
***
As he was getting ready to go out for a stroll around 5pm, he was greatly surprised to see Rupna entering. “I hope the lunch was good. Tell me if you want anything special to eat, I will tell the cook to prepare. Are going out.”
“I wished to buy some toiletries from nearby shop and may be a small stroll.”
“I will show you a departmental store nearby and I will also take you to a cute little park very near. It is not crowded,” she gave the information gratuitously.
Soon they were seated in a secluded corner of the park where a few children were playing on slides and swings.” Did not wish to disturb you as you were busy with study. Glad you could make it. I look forward to spending more time with you daily after the exams.” Sooraj said.
“Me too,” she replied but bit her lips for her inadvertent display of her eagerness.
He laughed and said,” Thanks, we now know each other better. But I have a doubt. Does your dad offer to send you along with others as he did to me this morning?”
She stood up with her face getting red in anger and asked, “What do you think of me, a cheap slut, is it? My dad felt bad after I poured the tea on you in the morning. You also looked decent. That was why he offered to send me with you to show places. Be careful before you make any insinuation,” she said furiously and started walking towards the gate.
Sooraj ran behind her mollifying her anger profusely apologizing and returned to the bench holding her hand. They both sat close to each other talking sweet nothings. What started with a spilt tea in the morning and a tiff in the evening soon turned out to be a romance straight out of Mills & Boons stories. It was clear that Rupna also fell for the handsome, tall and dusky personality of Sooraj They daily spent together most of the time outside at some place or other.
One day when they were alone in his room with her father away somewhere, he asked her casually, “Does your father know our romantic interest in each other and approve of your spending whole day with me?”
“I think he knows. I mentioned about our love. Being a motherless daughter, he has always been extremely affectionate and would readily agree to my slightest wish. He also knows I am a sensible woman and know my boundaries,” and added, “He just wished to know whether you have a flat in Mumbai to live and your income would be adequate to run a small family. I would of course chip in from whatever job I get,” she expressed her anxiety.
“Do not worry. I have a well-paid job and the employers have provided the accommodation. Further we too are qualified,” he assured her.
“Are you sure your parents would approve of our marriage as I am a Bengali?”
“I am their only son and normally they should go by what I desire. But my dad is status conscious and my mother has reservations about marrying outside community. I am pressurizing them to relent and I hope before long,” he said. He dragged her close, hugged her long in tight embrace and smothered her with kisses. She in turn responded with equal fervor. Abruptly she withdrew with a sense of guilt and said, “No more please till we get married.”
“Ok agreed. Listen, Rupna, I wish to go to Kalimpong for two days with you to see the monasteries, flowers and enjoy para gliding. We will spend one night there and return next day,” he suggested.
“I do not think my dad will permit me to go with you. In fact, he was asking me to keep a distance from you,” she said with a sigh.
In the evening, she came to his room and said, “I do not know why, but my dad strictly warned me a while ago not to meet you anymore until we are married. He said if he wants to take you out, let him first marry you officially and then do what pleases him.”
With a touch of disappointment, he said, “I understand his concern. Give me one night, let me think and come back to you with a solution.”
The next day Sooraj came to dining hall and finding Ramchander alone there told him, “My intention to marry Rupna is certain and since you have some reservations, if you agree, I will arrange for a registered marriage here tomorrow with official witnesses of my vendors. You can also bring your friends as witnesses. I will buy new dresses for all. It is my parents’ choice to accept or not but Rupna will be my wife. Shall I go ahead?”
Ramchander looked at Rupna giving Sooraj a high five animatedly and then said, I agree,” with a broad smile.
***
As the plane carrying Mr. and Mrs. Sooraj and Ramchander decked in fine clothes was about to land at Mumbai airport, Rupna whispered to her husband, “I am afraid how your parents would react? If they refuse to accept me, would you ditch me?”
“Have total trust in me. I will never let you down even if the whole world turns against us, be assured. Wipe your face and look cheerful. We will face things as they develop, “he patted her.
Though not Corana days, the arrival lounge was empty stoking Rupna’s fears more. When they came out of arrival gate, they found it was jam packed with visitors holding garlands, bouquets for their relatives presumably. Suddenly an elderly man and his wife dressed in rich fineries approached them with garlands in hand calling, “beta, warm welcome to both of you. “The lady with a bouquet in hand and a large smile on her face exclaimed in joy,” Rupna, how bewitchingly pretty you are. I know Sooraj always chooses the best.”
Startled at the turn of events, she turned to look at Sooraj only to see him winking at her. The band outside exploded into loud music and all the friends and relatives lined up to greet the couple with bouquets. A convoy of cars big and small drove towards their bungalow where a formal Sagaee (betrothal)has been arranged.
Sooraj with Rupna alone in one of the cars, turned to her and said.” Rupna, forgive me for the small deception played. My parents whole heartedly support us. I am no employee of the company, am rather the owner. Your dad knew it before the registered marriage.”
All of a sudden, Rupna tightly hugged Sooraj unmindful of the amused look of driver.



Friday, March 13, 2020

Savitri's plight


It was a small town in Northern India. It was getting dark and there was a mild drizzle. Savitri with her two-year-old girl on her arms knocked the door of a nondescript house twice. She was around twenty-seven and looked younger for her age. There was no response. She knocked again a little forcefully. She worried that this not going to be as smooth as she expected. It took long time for the door to open. She saw the tall figure of the man with an unshaven face and drooping muschtache looking at her quizzically as if wondering why she was there.
“What do you want? Why have you come here?” he asked in a voice bereft of emotion. There was no trace of warmth in his tone or any smile on his face. It was wooden.
“I have your pothi (granddaughter) with me here. I have no place to go.”
“Yes, I heard that Manoj had been killed in the skirmish at the border. The Sarkar should have given you enough money. Go to your folks. Why do you come here when you have not cared to visit us all these four years?”
“It is not my fault that Manoj kept away from you people for his own grouse, “she replied. "I have no one on my side. She is your granddaughter after all.”
He looked straight in her eyes and said in measured and icy tone that cut her heart rapier like,” You are not wanted here. He married you against our wishes and from that day we had washed our hands off him. The girl in your arm is nobody to us. You say she is my pothi (granddaughter). Who knows the veracity of your word?”
She was shocked to see Manoj’s mother keeping mum at this blasphemous and veiled accusation. She hung her head in shame and cried inconsolably even as the little girl tried to wipe the tears of her cheeks. She became numb at this cruel barb searching for words to answer. She knew that her father-in-law will neither understand nor accept if she had said that she was always advising Manoj to patch up with his parents and forgive their anger in throwing him out. He would not listen and swear in response that he would have no truck with them. He always said that he loved only one in that family and it was his younger brother.
“I have no place to go. I am young and cannot stay alone without harm coming to me. I have this girl who is your granddaughter. I swear upon that. Please allow me to stay here. I will be a slave in this house. Please; I beg you, not to throw me out. I will contribute a portion of my pension to the family. Kindly permit me to reside here. I want my child to grow in the comfort and security of a home.”
“No,” he bellowed. “You have no place here. Get out before I throw you out of the compound. I don’t care what happens to you or your ill- gotten child.” The woman by his side with a stony face did not budge her little finger.
“Stop this nonsense. I have been hearing all your blabber all this time to see to what extent you two are depraved. I will not let down my bhabi and the child. I know Manoj meant no ill will for you both till you treated him shabbily. What he did was right and I would have done the same” roared Neeraj her devar , the younger brother of Manoj
The shocked old man shouted back” Will you dare go against our wishes. I will throw you also out without a penny. Do remember that.”
“To hell with your money. If bhabi is willing I will marry her as is our custom, and take care of both for life. We are walking out of this wretched place this moment once and for all,” he said with a finality.
Dazed as she was, Savitri clasped the extended hand of Neeraj and moved towards the gate even as the old couple were rendered speechless at the sudden turn of events.


Saturday, March 7, 2020

The small world of Sita


“Sita madam, it is nearing 1pm. Won't you have your lunch?” asked the nursing attendant.
Sita continued to stare at the roof without reacting to the question. When the female attendant gently touched her shoulder, Sita shrugged her hand away. The attendant quietly went to the kitchen to bring some food in a bowl to feed her. She normally ate what was given in her hand.
Sita was nearing sixty and was born mentally retarded in a rich family. She was otherwise quiet and mostly silent. She never talked to any of the inmates of the destitute home and mumbled to herself occasionally. There were no tantrums thrown. She was trained since young age to go to bath room by herself. For all other things she needed to be told and helped.
It was a destitute home for girls and women who were sick incapable of taking care of themselves or old women afflicted with dementia or other serious ailments with none to look after. The home accepted whatever they could pay.
A brief note about Sita, the main character in the story, may not be out of place. She was born to a lawyer who commanded a lucrative practice. The couple were devastated when they realized their daughter was not a normal child. They left no stone unturned in prayers and pilgrimages to make her normal when doctors could do little. Her sad but disciplined mother patiently trained her to attend to her basic chores.
The couple had a normal son three years later who turned out to be bright and compassionate. He would not go out to play as a young boy but spent time after school hours with his sister making her smile with his pranks. He shared with her what all he got though she was in no position to use them. He took her out carefully to the temple close by unmindful of the stares of others.
In due course, Chellappa, as the boy was called, completed his IIT and IIM went to US and in a few years started a startup and became extremely rich. He fell in love with an Assamese girl who worked with him and married her. But he never failed to visit his parents and his sister every year. She had grown tall and charming to look.
As years passed by, his father passed away and his mom took care of Sita with assistance from domestic helps. They lived in a large house in the heart of the city. In five years his mother too followed his father after she accidentally slipped in bathroom and hurt her head.
Chellappa had Sita admitted in the destitute home and requested the NGO who ran it to move the home that was in the outskirts of the city to his spacious home. Before relocating, he had the home renovated and remodified to suit the requirements of a destitute home by providing for several rooms with a large common hall and dining hall and a spacious kitchen.
Sita was given a large room to be shared with another woman of normal faculties with Parkinson’s disease, while other rooms had three or four inmates depending on size. More inmates in the waiting list were admitted in the commodious home. Chellappa supplemented the income of the home with periodical remittances. They also received donations from philanthropists.
Lakshmi, the Secretary of the home, was a kind hearted lady who sincerely ran it with efficiency and  with great care. Chellappa donated a van and a car to the home for its use. He came once in two years or even earlier to spend time with his sister Sita. He would sit by her side and ask her who he was.
All she could do was to call him ‘Chellappa’ and rub his hands, feel his head and keep staring at him. She did not remember much about her mom except repeat parrot like ‘Amma’ and giggle when Chellappa spoke about her. It was a pathetic sight for Chellappa as tears would flow from his eyes.
With great concern, she will wipe his eyes with her pallav and remark, “Why crying like baby?” She would put her hand around his shoulders and mumble something incoherently. When he got up to leave, she would hold his hands and refuse to let him go. It was unwillingly and with great difficulty, he would wrench himself from her as she broke into crying. This was a routine each time he visited her.
A few months back, Chellappa got a mail from the Secretary of the home expressing her concern at Sita falling sick repeatedly with respiratory problem and doctor’s prognosis that her heart was very weak and she may not live long.
When he spoke to the Lakshmi, she told him, “You know Sita is not well.I am told and have also personally seen her often mumbling ‘Chellappa, Chellappa’ even when her eyes are closed. I personally feel you must visit her as early as convenient. I am sure it would bolster her sagging spirit.”
“Thank you for suggesting. I will surely come this week itself. She was born on Tamil New Year’s day and she would be completing 60 years in less than ten days. I will surely be there. Money is no concern. Give her the best treatment,” said Chellappa
As ill luck would have it, she died two days later. Chellappa was there with his wife in time for her last rites.
After a fortnight, it was the day of their departure and flight was late night. He was at the destitute home talking to the Secretary and the other office bearers thanking them profusely for taking care of Sita.
Lakshmi, a dignified lady with kind heart, with lot of hesitation started saying,” Sir, we are beholden to you for the invaluable help you had rendered all these long years. Now that our dear Sita is no more, it may not be proper on our part to expect to continue here. This place would be worth several crores. My humble request to you would be to give us three months to look for an alternate accommodation in the outskirts of the city. Kindly agree.”
Chellappa instead of replying her request stood up abruptly and said,, “Excuse me. Let me go round this home and have a look before I leave,” and walked out of the office room.
The bewildered Lakshmi followed to watch him entering each room greeting with smile and folded arms every inmate and bending to touch the feet of older people. He was seen wiping his tears repeatedly and telling them “You are all my sisters like Sita. You gave her good company that I could not except make a fleeting visit once a year. I am not sure how I can repay the debt of gratitude to you all except assuring  that you will continue to have my full support till my last breath.”
Taking leave of them, he came to the room hurriedly along with the Secretary. Turning towards Lakshmi, he spoke,” You need have no cause for worry about new accommodation. I have already transferred the title to this place to your organization, specifically for use of this place as a destitute home. The lawyer would hand over the registered documents in two days. Here is his card. I will continue to support the home as before and would always be available on mail or phone. I have one small request. Is it possible to name one block of this home after my sister’s name?”
All those present were seen nodding their heads and sobbing touched by his caring and benevolent nature.











Friday, February 28, 2020

The portentous giggle

(An old unfinished story edited and presented here)
Kesava Marar dabbled in a small way in stock market. He did not have much resources to invest big. He used to spend some time on most days in a broking firm and make a few hundred buying and selling the same day. Some days he would lose also. One day when he decided to invest a tidy sum on what everyone thought was a blue chip stock that was expected to zoom, he felt he heard a wisp of laughter behind his back. He turned round to see none. A fortnight later the stock crashed when there was wide exposure in media about fudging of accounts of the company and the cases filed against management.
There was a long standing dispute in the court on an ancestral property and he had spent considerable money towards lawyer and court fee. Marar was told by his lawyer his case was very strong and that judgment was to be delivered that day. He left early morning for the district court in another town. As he entered the court precincts he felt he heard again the same old giggle behind his back. Startled he turned back to see none behind. There was a lump in his throat with a tinge of fear. He hurried inside as his name was called only to get the shock of his life when the court decided against him with costs to be paid to the other party. Even as the memory of the mild laughter came sharply in his mind, a rationalist he was, he chided himself for being superstitious.
He was already 28 and his aged mom pressurized him to marry. He had a permanent job and there was no reason to put it off. When he expressed his willingness, his mother went into raptures. Soon she found a good match for him. The bride Smita was good looking, more qualified than him and had a better job. Both liked each other and agreed to marry.
It was the wedding day and there was a huge crowd of relatives and friends. The auspicious time for tying the knot had arrived and the purohit started chanting the mantra in loud voice. Even as Marar with the mangal sutra in his hands neared the bride  to tie the knots, the nadaswara vidwan (piper) played the music briskly and loudly accompanied by melam(drum). The noise was ear shattering. As Marar bent to tie the knot amidst the smiling faces that surrounded him, the poor chap felt again that he distinctly heard twice the very same mild laughter despite the noise all around. His face became pale, he started perspiring heavily and his knees seemed to go limp with fear. Urged by the purohit, he tied the thread hastily with three knots amidst the cacophony of congratulations and greetings from those around. To the bewilderment of many, the smile had faded from his face and he looked ashen as if struck by a ghost. The bride looked at him with concern. Someone brought a Pepsi.
That night when they were together in the bedroom, the young wife asked him “Can I ask you one question?”
When he nodded, Smita asked “Why did your face turn pale and you started perspiring heavily when you bent to  tie the knot. Your face was grim with no smile at that happy moment? Are you not happy with me?”
He smiled at her with effort and said “It is nothing.”
When she prodded him further, he narrated the earlier two incidents and said “I thought I heard again today the vicious laughter not once but twice behind my back just as I bent to tie the knots. That put me off.”
Smita broke into laughter and teased him saying, “How naïve and superstitious you are? I know that case of that famous company and how in collusion with promoters the accounts were fudged to present a bright picture. Not only you, I had lost quite an amount along with my dad and many of my friends. Banish such superstitious thoughts of the giggle warning only you and not thousands of others.”
“What about the dismissal of my property case?” he asked
 “The judges go by the facts of the case and concrete evidence. Where does the giggle you heard come to adversely change the case? I do not want a credulous and irrational village bumpkin for my husband. Promise me you will be a sensible and rational guy,” she remonstrated even as she embraced him running her hand on his head.
It was exactly a year later when he was anxiously waiting in the lounge, one nurse opened the door beckoning him inside. As he waited anxiously outside the delivery theatre, a glum looking nurse peeped out calling Marar.With no clue of what awaited him and with racing heart, he went in to see a smiling Smita with two babies, a girl and a boy.
 Pleasantly surprised he went near the two babies to have a look when Smita teased him by telling, “Now I know why there were two giggles instead of the usual one behind your back as you bent to tie the knot.”


Saturday, February 22, 2020

The case of a scared rabbit


It was a Sunday. When I returned after a walk at 8am, I saw many cars parked on the road and inside our complex. Something wrong, I wondered. People were seen standing in small clusters talking in hushed tone.
Dhonu, our security, on seeing me approached quickly and whispered in Hindi,” Tanwar Saheb died last night.”
“How come? I saw him last evening and he was looking very fine,” I said.
“Don’t know. His daughter came about one hour ago and the door was broken open when there was no response. They were looking for you for the duplicate key. He was on the bed but dead. They are all there,” he was telling just when an ambulance followed by a police vehicle entered the compound. As Tanwar was my friend and the resident of the opposite flat, I hastened inside.
 Tanwar's daughter Malti on seeing me rushed towards me wailing,” Rajesh uncle, my dad is dead in sleep. I rang him up three times around 10 pm last night and there was no response. I was worried. As my husband Sudesh was away, I could not come here to check. Thinking he might be asleep I did not call him again till morning. When there was no response again today, I lost no time in coming here. The doorbell was not answered. I could not find my key in the hurry.
 Since you were not there and I was very anxious to get in, I got the door broken open only to find him inert and dead on the bed. Meanwhile it seems someone had informed the police,” she said just as a man in uniform entered along with a colleague. He introduced himself as Sunil, an inspector of police.
The other guy felt Tanwar’s nostrils for breath, flashed the torch at his eyes, shook him a bit and lifted his banian and pajama to see for any injury mark. Not finding any, he muttered, “Could be a peaceful end in sleep. Was he a heart or sleep apnea patient? “he asked no one in particular.
“No, he had no heart or respiratory issue except for some sugar. He did not complain of any problem when I rang him last evening and he talked cheerfully. This is utterly shocking,” Malti said crying inconsolably.
“Was he staying here alone? Who took care of him? He must be in his seventies, “asked the inspector.
“Yes, he insisted on staying alone as long as he was fit. My mom passed away two years back. As he was in good health and only 72, we respected his wishes. He made his food, sometimes got from caterers or bought from outside. Besides Rajesh uncle was there to keep an eye on his well being. They were very close,” she clarified.
The inspector took notice of me for the first time and asked in a brusque manner, “Did you meet him yesterday?”
“Yes, I saw him in the evening around 5 pm and exchanged pleasantries. He was in his usual chirpy mood. There was no clue even faintly that his end was so close. It is devastating,” I replied.
“Where were you last night?”
“I was in my flat. I had a severe head ache and retired early to bed,” I replied.
“Mr. Rajesh, please remain in your house. I wish to get more details about the deceased man, his acquaintances etc.”
The inspector quickly had the body removed to a hospital, had the house closed with temporary lock and posted a constable outside the flat. Around 4 PM he came back with some men followed by Malti and her husband. When I came out on hearing the voices, I was also asked to join by the inspector.
With none except the family members, myself and the police men, the inspector sat with us in the living room while one man was seen dusting various places for finger prints and another guy was going round each room microscopically examining and looking for some evidence.
Malti broke the silence asking the inspector, “Do you suspect any foul play? Why the dusting and a detective scrutinizing closely?”
“Tell me first whether your dad suffered from insomnia and whether he took sleeping or sedative tablets? Did he drink?” he asked 
“No, he had no sleeping problem whatsoever. He was a sound sleeper. He took beer occasionally though he had a bottle or two in the flat. Why all these questions?” Malti asked
“Your dad died of over dosage of Lorazepam along with alcohol, a fatal combination. We are examining to see how it had happened unless your dad wished to end his life. Rajesh had seen him last at 5 pm in happy frame of mind ruling out suicide. This must have happened much later. He must have had a visitor with this stuff.  I checked with security and as far as he knows no outsider had come to visit your dad. Rajesh says he went to bed early as he was indisposed. We are in a quandary and looking for clues,” explained the inspector patiently.
When Malti started sobbing, the inspector turned towards me and said, “Can you please give her a glass of water? I will call you later when needed. You may rest at your place.” I complied with the request and patted her to remain composed before returning to my flat.
It was evident he did not want my presence making me uneasy and wondering whether he was suspecting me as I had access to the flat. 
***
When Malti, her husband Sudesh, inspector and the detective were alone, they took tea brought by a constable. 
“All of you listen to me carefully and correct me if my reasoning is wrong. Before that can you tell me whether your mom was taller than your dad and by how many inches,” he asked Malti.
Surprised she asked, “How do you know? Yes, she was taller than him  slightly by more than two inches.”
-“Good, we are making progress. Let me explain now in proper sequence. The common reason for sudden death in bed could be cardiac arrest or over dosage of sleeping tablets. Since he had no heart related ailment, I turned my attention to the possibility of your dad putting an end to his life. But you ruled out that possibility when you said he was cheerful last evening. Rajesh had also mentioned similarly. So I ruled out suicide for now.
-There are only three keys, one with dad, another with you and the third with Rajesh.  Security said there was no stranger who came for this flat and there was a peephole through which your dad can see unknown visitors before deciding to open.  Rajesh had slept early and you did not come. Who was the person who came in to administer the drug is the question tormenting me?
-The top shelf over the fridge is beyond reach of your short father. When we checked, we found two beer mugs that were taken out last evening from the top shelf were left there after drinking session foolishly without proper cleaning as both had very minute remnants of the drink. The rest of mugs were dusty. Someone must have come and mixed the sleeping tablets along with beer given to dad while the suspect took only beer. The beer bottle found in fridge had very small quantity left indicating it had been used. The contents of the mugs corroborated our suspicion. The other tests also confirmed the findings.
“Why would anyone kill an old man without motive.? Rajesh said he last saw him around 5 pm and had only pleasantries. Rajesh had also said that he slept early due to head ache. We questioned the security intensely and confidentially. They tell that lights were on only in your dad's flat up to 11pm. Who was the person in your dad's flat who stayed up to 11 pm? He must be obviously known to him
-From the glass of water given to Malti we could get finger prints of Rajesh. From the finger prints on the two mugs, we could connect the one with the drug to your dad while those from the mug that was used  only for  beer belongs to a stranger. We are yet to identify him.
You must tell me whether there was any possible motive that you were aware of like financial dealings, women or shady deals that went foul and posed a threat to him? If there is one, we can look into that direction."
"I am not aware of any such " said Malti and added, "My dad was a very straight forward person without any blemish. He had told me once that he is financially sound and did not need any support from daughters."
It was then inspector's colleague took him aside to another room and whispered something. There was a sudden spring in the walk of inspector back to hall. He found Malti sitting with fingers of both hands pressing her temples and Sudesh  morose and glum.
Inspector asked very casually, “You said your husband was not at the house last evening and hence you could not come here. When did he return? “  Sudesh immediately turned apprehensively to Malti's side.
" I think around midnight," she said innocently.
"Where were you, Sudesh, till that hour?" asked Inspector.
"I was at the mall playing games and in coffee shop doing nothing in particular," 
"I have irrefutable information that you were here at your father-in-law's flat using the key given to Malti," Inspector said accusingly.
"No, this is utter nonsense,” he exploded
“Could be unless the finger prints on the mugs and the tea cup lie. We have made some discreet enquiries since morning about your financial position, “ he said and turned to Malti to add, “I am sorry for you. You are like my sister. Sudesh is in deep financial trouble with recovery agents of unscrupulous financiers after him with bodily and other threats and he needs money badly. Only your dad’s end may bring some money.There are only two tall persons and Rajesh is on the clear. We are taking Sudesh into custody for interrogation. We hope to get the truth soon. You can nevertheless engage a lawyer to help you. I commiserate with you."
Meanwhile one constable came running up the steps to tell,” Inspector sahib, Rajesh babu sped away in his car even when the security tried to stop him and our constables are in hot pursuit in motor bikes."
"Foolish fellow, he is so scared like a rabbit that he does not know that flight is proof of guilt, though he has nothing to worry at all," he said with a smile.





-- 


Friday, February 14, 2020

A sign of Valentine


“Siva, can you give me your English notebook? I will return it tomorrow,” said Jaya.
Jaya was the most sought-after girl in his class. Tall and slim, with long hair that fell up to her hip, and attractive hazel eyes, she was as talented as she was beautiful. She was a topper in studies, sang both classical and film songs and participated in all the cultural events. A natural leader with self-confidence, she had a domineering streak about her. All the boys deemed it a favour if she spoke to them.
Sivakumar had a silent crush on her but had not mustered the courage to speak to her. So, he was pleasantly surprised when Jaya reached out to him. Siva immediately gave her the notebook without uttering a word.
“Thanks a lot. I was absent yesterday. Won’t you ask me why I chose you for this help?” she asked with a giggle.
“You are a class topper and highly popular in the school. How would I know what runs in your mind and why you chose me?” said Siva rather shyly.
“Hooray, you have summoned the courage to talk to me at last. You are my closest competitor in studies in our class and I wanted to unravel your secrets by looking at your book,” she said and laughed.
It was clear that Siva was bowled over by her easy familiarity and charming ways. There was a spring in Siva’s walk back home that day and her smiling face lingered all the time.
The next day, he was at school earlier than usual and was disappointed not to see Jaya. When she entered the class a little later, Siva saw her turning her head towards him and discerned a faint smile. Or was it not there, he wondered. He could not pay attention to what the teacher was explaining with his mind full of her.
At lunch time, someone tapped his shoulder from behind. When Siva turned, he saw Jaya standing before him with a large smile. His heart raced.
“Here is your notebook. Thank you very much.” She said. “I simply love your handwriting. Give me your math book today. I have decided to turn to you every time I need the lessons.” Jaya spoke looking straight in his eyes that made Siva lower his eyes.
Siva was thrilled. “Okay, I will give it in class,” he said. Six words of conversation was a big improvement for him.
In class, as Siva put the notebook he had lent to Jaya in his bag, he found a fresh rose petal inside. “Surely this is a sign,” he thought. He placed a curry leaf from his lunch in his maths notebook that he gave Jaya. Siva was not yet adept in the language of flora and fauna!
More books got borrowed, more playful exchanges shared and they became good friends. Siva started accompanying Jaya during her evening walk to her home at Mahalingapuram. His home was close by. He could see from the huge house and the parked cars that she belonged to a rich family.
Siva soon became the envy of his classmates. He was feeling on top of the world. Little did he foresee the unfortunate tide of events in his life.
When Siva completed his 10th class at the end of the year, his father was transferred to Delhi. Siva and Jaya were disappointed but promised to stay in touch over the phone. As it often happens, with distance their communication ebbed and soon they lost touch completely.
The years rolled by. Siva studied at Delhi School of Economics, acquired a doctorate from London School of Economics and migrated to the US, working for the World Bank.
One day his father telephoned him and said, “Listen Sivakumar, I have found a good match for your elder brother. Sivamani is coming next month, from Germany to Chennai to see the girl. If everything goes well, we will conduct the wedding within a week.  Please plan your trip too.”
Sivamani was elder to Sivakumar by a couple of years.
“What is the girl doing? Her background?” asked Siva.
“Her name is Jaya. AII I know is that she is highly qualified and works in Europe. I do not remember the complete details. The girl’s family is also from Mahalingapuram.”
Siva’s heart went aflutter. “Appa, is this Jaya tall, with hazel eyes?”
“Why, do you know her or what? I have not seen the girl. Anyway, we are all going along with Sivamani to meet her,” his dad said.
Siva became moody. In their childhood, there had been an intense rivalry between the two brothers and Sivamani always had his way, be it the ownership of toys, the seat in the dining table or the choice of food they ordered. And now, Siva was convinced that his brother had beaten him even in the choice of a life partner. Siva even toyed with the idea of skipping the trip. He told himself that his feelings towards Jaya were only an infatuation, a childish fancy. Nothing serious. He made the trip to Chennai.
But Siva remained restless. Not knowing the mental turmoil Siva was passing through, Sivamani put his arms around his brother as they walked into the sprawling hall of the bride’s house. Siva remembered the house distinctly, sinking his mood further.
Accustomed as he was since his young days, he prepared himself to forego his love for his brother. After the pleasantries among the elders, the bride Jaya was led by her mother to the hall.
Siva wishing, he were not here, raised his head when his brother nudged him. She was tall, with long hair. Siva’s heart was beating fast. He looked at her eyes and they were brown! Did not his Jaya have hazel eyes? The bride didn’t quite look like his Jaya too. But Siva was not sure.
Sivamani was happily talking to her and asked her about her job and the place she lived in Munich. Suddenly, the bride’s father shouted, “Kannamma, bring me my glasses. I have left them on the dining table.”
Another girl entered the hall with specs in hand. Tall and with long hair. Siva looked up and saw her hazel eyes. His heart soared with relief and joy to discover his friend Jaya before him. He thought her face brightened up a fleeting second when their eyes met, but he was not sure.
Siva asked her, “Are you not a student of KV in Mehta Nagar? Do you recognize me?”
“Of course, Siva! How can I forget the notebooks I borrowed from you? And the curry leaf you gave me,” she asked with a mischievous grin.
Siva’s father did not miss the exchange. “Siva, I think you have found your hazel eyed girl. Glad things are happening as ordained.”
He then turned to the bride’s father and said, “This is my second son, Sivakumar working at the World Bank at Washington. Ever since he heard about a Jaya from Mahalingapuram, he has been worried.”
The bride’s father laughed. “All this confusion is because we named our children similarly. The elder is Jayapriya and younger is Jayasri. Like your sons, Sivamani and Sivakumar.”
Things moved rapidly in the next minute.
Jaya’s father said, “We are fortunate to get the brothers for our daughters. We can have the wedding same day. I think Siva and Jayasri would like to exchange a few words in private in the opposite room.”
When they all turned their heads to see Jaya, the younger sister, she was seen with her head bent and hands twirling her long hair in shyness.
“This is the first time I am seeing her shy. In schooldays none dared to oppose her,” said Siva, and everyone burst into laughter.
As they entered the room, they found to their immense delight the large daily calendar showing the date February 14. Their hearts were suffused with joy at the sign of Valentine!